John Dies at the End

John Dies at the End is about drugs. Even I know that, and I know as much about drug culture as astrophysics. The name of the drug is the soy sauce, and it gives you all sorts of weird mental and psychic powers. It also messes up your sense of where you are in time, because time isn’t linear, or something like that. Parts of this movie reminded me of the scene in Animal House when they smoke pot.

Our hero is Dave Wong, not John. Dave is not Chinese, but he changed his last name to Wong to make him harder to find. He and his best friend John, who may or may not be dead, are psychic investigators. To the unguarded eye they appear to be a pair of fuck-ups, but appearances can be deceiving.

When the movie starts Dave is telling his story to reporter Arnie Blondestone at a Chinese restaurant. There’s a girl, and her dead boyfriend is stalking her. John and Dave discover the girl looks different to them when they’re in her basement. She dissolves into snakes – not spiders – and all the meats in the basement freezer form the Meat Man, who has a raw chicken for a head. The Meat Man isn’t as impressive as the Sunflower Man of Temple Wood fame, but he’s still quite a sight.

This scene has nothing to do with the rest of the movie. The real story starts when John and Dave graduate from high school and a Jamaican dude named Robert Marley gives John and a bunch of his friends a hit of a drug called the soy sauce. Dave isn’t there, but he runs to John’s place when John calls him in the middle of the night. John’s all fucked up, so Dave takes him to the hospital. Enroute, he’s attacked by a guy who tries to attach a lamprey to his chest.

There’s more. We have a psychic guru, a girl with an amputated hand and a dog that can drive. The soy sauce is actually bugs. Why would anyone be crazy enough to inject bugs? I assume if you have to ask the question, you’re not meant to know the answer.

John Dies at the End is directed by Don Coscarelli, who also directed Phantasm. If you liked Phantasm chances are you’ll like this movie. John Dies at the End has no coherent story, but is full of bizarre imagery and is as much science fiction as horror. A good portion of the climax is spent trying to explain the movie. It doesn’t take. Which is not to say that John Dies at the End is a bad movie. This is a film striving for cult status, and who knows? Maybe it’ll be regarded as a cult classic in twenty years. It’s certainly weird enough.

Devil’s Pass

Does anyone remember Renny Harlin, the man who directed such classics as Die Hard 2, Nightmare on Elm Street 4 and Deep Blue Sea? He’s at it again, directing Devil’s Pass, a movie I never heard of. I’d like to tell you that I saw the credits and was like, damn, it’s Renny Harlin, I have to watch this. After all, Mr. Harlin is responsible for more than a few classic cinematic moments, most notably Samuel Jackson’s inspired speech in Deep Blue Sea. Alas, it’s not true. I didn’t see his name until the end credits.

The plot of Devil’s Pass: five young filmmakers decide to travel to the Ural Mountains of Russia to visit Dyatlov Pass. Nine hikers mysteriously died in 1959 at Dyatlov Pass, which is now the epicenter of all manner of crackpot conspiracy theories. It appears that the Russian government is still covering up something…I guess? As one of the characters points out, our heroes had to state the purpose of their visit when they applied for their visas, so if there were mysterious secrets the Russian government was hiding the easiest thing to do would be to deny those visas. But I suppose that would be suspicious so the next best thing to do is let our headstrong youths into Russia and then (mild spoilers) try to kill them, thus drawing international attention to the area. Yeah, that part’s not too clear.

Anyway, our heroes – two women and three guys – are all stupid, attractive young people. Holly is so obsessed with Dyatlov Pass she dreams about it and her buddy Jensen is a conspiracy theorist and filmmaker (this movie is supposed to be found footage, although it looks way too good to be found footage). Denise is the audio engineer, although there are times she doesn’t stick her boom mic in people’s faces and you can still hear them fine. Luke and Ryan are hikers and sure are handsome. None of them have personalities. Holly’s obsessed, Jensen has a crush on Denise who hooks up with Ryan, and Luke reads Kurt Vonnegut.

The early scenes are fine. The Russian town’s cars are all covered in a few feet of snow and there are dogs everywhere. Instead of the typical scene where a native warns them not to proceed, the bartender gives our heroes a shot of the local rotgut. We learn this is the same rotgut the 1959 hikers drank before embarking, although how the bartender knows this is a mystery.

The first half of Devil’s Pass builds slowly. Romantic tension brews, because there’s nothing like hiking all day in subzero temperatures to ramp up the ole’ sex drive. Strange Yeti footprints appear around the tents and then vanish into thin air, which is impossible. The others suspect Holly and Jensen of fucking with them, maybe because there’s no other sane explanation.

Our Scooby Gang – one of the characters even refers to Holly as Velma – soon finds a door buried under the snow. Three of them make it through that door, and that’s when Devil’s Pass falls to piece. This is the second X-Files inspired movie I’ve seen in the past few weeks (the first was Honeymoon, highly recommended for people who enjoy body horror). I can’t proceed any further without massive spoilers, but what happens next makes no sense at all if you think about it. Unfortunately, I do think about it.

Devil’s Pass is still recommended, because parts of it are fun and hey, it’s Renny Harlin!